The Reason Everything’s Coming Up Daisy

Parking is basic geometry, right? To prevent chaos and to maximize space, we’ve devised a simple system whereby you are obligated to maneuver your rectangle-shaped car into a larger car-shaped rectangle. Not too complicated, yet based on my observations that I make in every parking lot I enter, parking a car is either so easy an single-celled organism lacking opposable thumbs could do it blindfolded, or so difficult that a single-celled organism could have a master’s in applied math from MIT and still not be able to keep those wheels appropriately parallel and perpendicular. Any parking lot, anywhere, will prove that some people aren’t feeling the rectangles. Some people are just out there rhombusing and trapezoiding through life, and if they take up multiple parking spaces in the process, you just need to stand back and understand not everyone fits into your little rectangle world, KAREN. The rebels are here, and they are coming for all the parking spaces.

That same feeling of sticking it to the man comes over me every time I wander away from my planned reading list. There is a me with a proper TBR stack and a detailed calendar allotting each book its appropriate reading time. Then there is a me that is easily distracted by shiny book covers and friends who say “Hey have you read this? You will love it!” The back and forth between these two versions of me is vicious and bloody except there is no blood and I’m really nice to me all the time and I win no matter what because I’m reading, but still. VICIOUSNESS. BLOOD. FLAUNTED GEOMETRY.

The me that chases the book squirrels won the latest round, because as I was engaged in some light Kondo-ing, I unearthed a copy of Henry James’s Daisy Miller and Other Stories that I purchased at a used bookstore and promptly forgotten about. Woot! I pressed pause on the next planned book from my TBR stack, and in the spirit of trying to keep it fun and footloose in 2019, I decided to give myself a little reading challenge. Nothing from my TBR stack allowed, and I had to find two more books with ‘daisy’ in the title. A quick Google search later and it was ON, Daisy-style.

Daisy Miller and Other Stories-Henry James is an attention whore and I love him for it. His signature writing style is basically “I WILL GIVE YOU ALL THE PAGES AND YOU WILL SUFFER AND THANK ME” and he’s not wrong. I read his novel Portrait Of A Lady eleventy-billion years ago and I still think about that book once a week. Henry James wrote a bunch of other stuff that I need to get around to (The Ambassadors, I am coming for you, I swear) but thanks to Marie Kondo, this Henry James Wheel Of Fortune spin landed on Daisy Miller, a Gilded Age novella about a wealthy, unconventional American girl traveling through Europe with her wealthy, unconventional family. Daisy’s story is told to us by Winterbourne, a conventional American living in Europe with his conventional family and guess what? Opposites attract. Daisy operates with all the subtlety of a roller derby to as she attempts to navigate the formal, structured society of the American wealthy who settled across the pond at the turn of the century. Her brashness and candor, qualities exalted in America, make her too American as she struggles to find a place in the Old World. Winterbourne, by turns, admires and is exasperated by Daisy, and he’s powerless in the face of her charm. Daisy Miller hits all the Henry James high notes that I love-a little bit sinister, a little bit snobby-so to answer your question, yes, it sparked a buttload of joy.

Please Don’t Eat The Daisies – Jean Kerr was an Irish American author and Tony Award-winning playwright. Married to drama critic Walter Kerr, she wrote humorous essays about her domestic life as wife to Walter and mother to their four boys. Her 1957 essay collection, Please Don’t Eat The Daisies, made her a household name when it was adapted to the big screen with the 1960 Doris Day/David Niven movie “Please Don’t Eat The Daisies” and the small screen with a television series of the same name. Having been within three feet of a television in the past four decades, I have seen the movie “Please Don’t Eat The Daisies” multiple times. It pops up once every few months…perhaps mandated by local ordinance? Or due to great work by Doris Day’s PR team? I have no idea, but I’d always harbored mild curiosity about the source material and thanks to my Square Peg Round Daisy Reading Challenge, I finally made the time. Kerr’s work is funny and relatable, assuming that you, too, are a fixture of the Broadway community who decides to purchase a castle in Connecticut when you finally make the move out of your New York apartment. Not all of the essays in this book survive the journey from 1957 to 2019-I spent a lot of time looking up references so I could get the joke-but Jean Kerr’s sparkle and dry wit are clear.

I will defy your geometry rules, man

Daisy Jones & The Six-This is the newest book by novelist Taylor Jenkins Reid and the first book I have read by this author. Let me say, oh so happily, that I picked the right time to tag in. You don’t have to be obsessed with VH1’s “Behind The Music” (which I am) or Rob Sheffield’s kinetic music-centered memoir Talking To Girls About Duran Duran (which I am) to completely fall into this flashback history of the fictional seventies rock band The Six, but it definitely helped me love it that much more. The book’s structure allows for each member of the band to tell the story of the rise and fall of the wildly successful The Six during the late 70s, the time when the music industry defined stadium rock. It’s a fascinating character study, a riveting story, and a commentary on the unique demands of fame and talent, and it was an absolutely delicious reading experience. I give it 10 out of 10 Fleetwood Macs.

Challenge completed, so it’s back to my nice, rectangular TBR stack.


Action Items

I forgive you-I forgive all of you-for the daisy chain jokes you made in your head the whole time you were reading this.

The Reason For The Breakdown

Recently, I accidentally attended a one-man show put on by a Physics Clown. (My laptop wanted to autocorrect that to Psychic Clown. Is that a thing? And what would a psychic clown predict? Future Cirque du Soleil show themes?) He did exactly what you would expect a Physics Clown would do, demonstrating all manner of science principles while wearing a clown-themed tie-dyed shirt and using colorful props. He had a Chinese yo-yo, a balance board, a unicycle…you know. Science clown stuff. In the interest of clown transparency, prior to each demonstration, he would explain how long it actually took him to learn to juggle, or manipulate gravity sticks, or use the Kendama toy. The story was consistent across the board—it takes a long time to master all of those skills . Depending on the trick, it was years to many years. There is a process, with time invested in making sure what you’re doing is not only done well but that it’s worth watching. It’s the kind of dedicated, focused attention that turns a person into a successful Physics Clown – or into Steve Martin.
Psychic Clown: I predict where you’re going here
Me: You’re good

Steve Martin is a stand-up comedian, actor, film director, dancer, art collector, playwright, musician, and author. I’m not sure why he does all that stuff. Honestly, just one or two of those things would be in good taste. I’m not a psychiatrist or anything, but to keep piling like that on probably speaks to a desperate need for validation. Despite the fact that I think I’m contributing to his narcissism, I am a big fan of his writing. He’s written fiction (Shopgirl, Cruel Shoes), memoir (Born Standing Up), plays (Picasso At The Lapin Agile The Underpants), and he is a regular contributor to publications like The New Yorker (some of the New Yorker pieces are published as a collection in Pure Drivel). While I was composing this paragraph, he published a technical manual on operating DVRs and the world’s most insightful Trader Joe’s shopping list. He has been consistently funny, consistently smart, and consistently entertaining in all of the mediums. He makes it look easy, and you don’t make anything easy without working incredibly hard.

As much as I love his books, my favorite Steve Martin piece is an essay called “Banjo” he wrote for the 1999 Oxford American magazine’s annual music issue. In it, he describes his love for the five-string banjo and details how he taught himself how to play, breaking down the songs on his bluegrass records to tortuously slow speeds and practicing in his car to spare the ears of everyone around him. Chord by chord, he developed his musicianship and proficiency, working his way up to that coveted banjo trophy: the breakdown, those blisteringly fast picking solos that define the five-string banjo in bluegrass music. The essay is joyful in that way that indulging yourself in discussing your favorite topic is joyful. It’s a banjo lovefest geekout. If you’ve ever seen Steve Martin play banjo, you see that same joy. He loves to do it and it’s fun to see, unlike, say, sitting in a chair tapping away at a laptop. There’s no such thing as a flashy typing solo.
Physics Clown: you should add some science
Me: how
Physics Clown: ride a unicycle while you’re writing
Me: my insurance company says I can’t do that anymore


Cannot show entire cover due to unauthorized status, but I can confirm that is Steve Martin’s neck

The act of writing is not in and of itself very interesting to watch. It’s a person and a keyboard and endless hours of hilarious Vines used to procrastinate to avoid actually writing. (Okay, that person is me, but if you think I’m not going to watch a cat get its head stuck in a Kleenex box, you’re crazy.) It’s very intense and dramatic internally. Externally, it’s watching paint dry, but with more profanity. It’s not the kind of activity that will draw a live audience, but there are some instances where a cheering section would come in handy. Like when I pick the perfect verb or use the Oxford comma.
Physics Clown: Just you and a laptop? That’s it?
Me: Yup
Physics Clown: Does the keyboard explode?
Psychic Clown: No
Physics Clown: (sigh)

Since I’m writing this stuff anyway, I may as well throw my own high-five parties.  Like all of my problems, I am solving this one with books. When I’m draggy and unmotivated, it’s all about creative inspiration. I’m no Physics Clown, but I like to read, and reading Steve Martin is a master class in, um, smart people who use words right and good. It gets me fired up. Stand back, because I am about to rock this place with a 10-minute air banjo breakdown. Pay attention, because I’m getting better all the time.
Me: Ask me that again
Physics Clown: Does the keyboard explode?
Physics Clown: (sigh)


Action Items
The Oxford American’s music issue is amazing. Check out how to get it.
Steve Martin does a bunch of stuff and he brags about all of it.
“Banjo” is included in The Oxford American Book Of Great Music Writing.




The Reason To Order The Special

I don’t like to brag, but I am really good at going to restaurants. For example, I can figure out where the bathroom is without even asking. I know to choose the side of the table that puts my back to the wall so I can immediately spot assassination attempts. If I am sitting at the bar, I order a drink that complements my outfit. I’ll stop with all these great specifics because I don’t want you to feel sad about your own inferior restaurant skills. Okay…one more. My BEST restaurant skill is that I always order the special. I’ll even order fish on a Monday because I’m brave like that. I LIKE SALMON AND I GIVE ZERO FUCKS.

Restauranting (a real verb that I just made up) is something that I’ve dedicated hours and hours to perfecting, primarily because at restaurants they cook stuff for you when you ask and then they take way your dishes so you don’t have to wash them and that always seems like a good idea to me. It took a while to get good at it, and I made some training mistakes. Lucky for me I picked the right mentor, someone I looked up to, someone I wanted to be. Someone who was not just good at restaurants, but good at life-M.F.K. Fisher.

Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher’s body of work chronicles an American woman’s coming of age in the first half of the 20th century: childhood in rural California, falling in love, experiencing life through two world wars, three marriages, and extensive travel. The Notorious MFK lived on her own terms. She is categorized as a food writer, and that’s (maybe) fair, because she published cookbooks, translated Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology Of Taste, and riddled her writing with recipes. For me, though, her work is a bold, sensual exploration of human desires – food, love, sex, curiosity – through the prism of eating.

I was browsing in a bookstore when I came across a collection of M.F.K. Fisher’s works, The Art Of Eating. I have the same problem in bookstores that I have in libraries, in that I’m incapable of editing the stack. If I put it on the stack, I already own it. That’s made for some regrettable, er, interesting purchases, as well as some truly startling credit card balances. I’d never heard of M.F.K. Fisher but the book was on a shelf at the end of the aisle and books merchandised on endcaps are my Kryptonite. The Art Of Eating (1954) is a compilation of essays previously published in five other books (Serve it Forth, Consider the Oyster, How to Cook a Wolf, The Gastronomical Me and An Alphabet for Gourmets.) I tore through it and my hands-down, runaway favorite was the radical, slightly perverse, and rivetingly humorous essay “Define This Word” from The Gastronomical Me (1947). It is my jam. (YAY FOOD JOKE)  In “Define This Word”, M.F.K. Fisher describes a meal that she had in 1936 in rural France while on a hot, tiring, day-long country walk. Stopping for lunch at a highly rated but deserted restaurant in the spring off-season, she is the object of the full, unsettling attention of the restaurant’s sole waitress. The waitress, recognizing in her customer a rarefied palate, colludes with the unseen but talented chef  to launch a full-out gourmet assault with an endless parade of French deliciousness that almost puts M.F.K. under. The story is a battle of wills between two strong-minded and like-minded women and in it M.F.K. demonstrates the very essence of Restaurant Confidence.

Restaurant anxiety is a real thing. All of the primary hungers intersect there, magnified by the virtue of being on display. Just ask anyone navigating a first dinner date. Who doesn’t relate to Melissa McCarthy eating the hand towels in front of Jude Law in Spy? Ok, I don’t, I’ve never eaten a hand towel in a restaurant or even in the privacy of my own home. The point is, restaurant behavior and etiquette expectations can be a trap, waiting to spring and make you look like a rube with an uncontrollable fabric fetish. I loved “Define This Word”, but it made me cringe, because there was some painful truth in there about self-possession. I saw a lot of opportunity to improve how I was going about my business. Let’s just say I had substituted confidence with narcissism, I had a PhD in self-centered hyperawareness, and had done my thesis on Me In Restaurants. It took dedication to make the food ordering process all about me but I had succeeded admirably. “How can I, too, make this otherwise neutral business transaction all about me?”, you ask? It’s simple. Through magical thinking, assign social acceptance rankings to all of the dishes on the menu. Then, obsessively try to choose the dish that aligns with your waiter’s values so that he/she LIKES YOU. Remember, if you get it wrong, you’re a bad person.
Menu: I gots some killer groceries tonight
Me: omg omg omg freaking out
Menu: What?
Me: What projects supreme likability, chicken or lamb?
Menu: Seriously? Weirdo.
Me: Not helping, menu
Menu: Order some Nobody Cares

Wanting to be liked isn’t the worst thing to want. Wanting to be liked so much you use a menu as a Magic 8 ball? Time for a get-over-yourself bat upside the head. My reaction when reading “Define This Word” was “SHE WALKED INTO A RESTAURANT ALONE TO EAT ALONE BY HERSELF ALONE IN A RESTAURANT ALONE?” It was a novel idea that there was a level of emotional maturity that elevated beyond ME being at the center of everything. Walk into a restaurant alone to eat by myself on purpose? Why not just walk naked into a math test that I forgot to study for and have to borrow a pencil from a guy I have a crush on?
Menu: Crazy, party of one, your table is ready
Me: Shut up
Menu: You know self-absorption makes you a dick, right?
Me: Does my hair look ok?
Menu: I give up

The Notorious M.F.K. did not have time for navel-gazing. She was too busy being an authentic badass to strive for inoffensive perfection. Confidence, yo. Confidence is so weird in that it makes you generous. If you aren’t busy reapplying your lipstick in the bathroom, you have time to observe your world. And you know what you are are going to see? Some weird shit. M.F.K. walked across France (alone), sat in a deserted restaurant (alone), and went toe-to-toe with a waitress whose laser focus on her customer’s dining experience made French food culture seem like a carnival funnel cake truck by comparison.

Reading “Define This Word” was a double dog dare challenge. The world around me wants to show me what it can do, not manage my neuroses. It was time to get the fuck over myself. I’m not perfect at this (yeah for example “I” is used in this post at least 15 times, so there’s some work to be done on self-focus, WHATEVER) When I am at a restaurant, I ask myself, What would M.F.K. do? And do you know what she would do? She wouldn’t worry about where her table was. She would not care if the waiter liked her. And she would order the damn special. The chefperson spent time going above and beyond to show off a particular ingredient or dish or technique and that is good enough for me. Show off, Chefperson! I’m going to be a great audience.
Menu: So there’s chicken and—
Me: Gonna have the special
Menu: I wouldn’t for real
Me: Not about me! I said the SPECIAL! Done
Menu: It’s wild boar aspic. We left the bristles on! BWAHAHAHAHAHA
Me: well played, menu

I stand corrected-I do like to brag. I am good at restauranting. While we wait for my artisanal slice of hairy boar jello, let’s sip these fresh cocktails and talk about you for a bit.

Action Items
To discover your own Notorious M.F.K. work, start herehere, or head to your local library
See Melissa McCarthy in Spy